Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The next adventure!

There's always a new adventure to be planned and always new lands to be explored. And while I could have been filling up my break between semesters hopping from country to country, let's be honest, winter isn't always the best time for the kind of adventuring I like to do.  So that is why our next big excursion is scheduled for the end of March when, while still far from balmy, the world will be beginning to thaw and hopefully our shivering will be kept to a minimum.  Just where are we heading, might you ask? 

Here's your first hint

And another
We'll probably end up in the home town of this fellow

Okay, now you all probably know that it's...


Last night we booked the plane tickets (an amazing steal flying Pegasus), so it now feels official! It's going to be a grand adventure! 

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

An update from Deutschland

So much has happened in the past week and a half. The days fly by and I sleep soundly when my head hits the pillow at night.  Some of my German friends shiver and others are already booking February holidays in Egypt, but I wear my pea-coat and enjoy the relative warmth here.  After my post whining a little bit about the lack of comradery in my group, things have gotten better.  I'm becoming friends with a sweet Polish girl who arrived in our class on the second day. We giggle like little girls together and huddle close and talk quietly on the metro.  Everyone in the group is loosening up a bit and at the room is filled with chatting during our break. We learn a little more about each other everyday and I am so fascinated by everyone's lives and the unique stories they all have to tell.

So, you might wonder, how have I been keeping myself occupied? Language school occupies my mornings, but my class is only until noon and Mario rarely comes home from university before 9 PM. It may not be frigid here, but it's not exactly ideal weather for roaming the city all day.  So instead, in the afternoons and evenings I go to work.  A job? Yep! It's an interesting story, let me explain.  Last summer when I worked as an Au Pair I found my host family through a certain Au Pair agency's website.  I apparently never deleted my profile because on the first Sunday in January I got a message from a family in Munich looking for an Au Pair as soon as possible.  I explained that while I could not commit to being a full-time Au Pair at this time, I happened to be in Munich and would be willing to help them out.  And before I knew it all the arrangements had been made and I was spending my days with two adorable youngsters. Their clever and fun and used to having Au Pairs and nanny's around.  They speak English quite well, so communication is no problem.  There is still plenty of German practice for me too though.  The daughter and I do reading and writing exercises together and I casually teach her piano.  We're going to start reading Bible stories together after we finish the book we're working on now. We all play and chat and watch TV and just hangout.  I feel happy and useful and productive and make a little extra pocket-money. Who could have imagined such a perfect situation to fall into place at exactly the right timing?

While I'm enjoying running water and adequately-heated buildings here in the first world, I still miss Ukraine.  Here, I am often frustrated during my morning commute.  "You could fit AT LEAST 10 more people in that metro car," I sigh, as I step back and wait for the next train because no one's budging.  Even though speaking English doesn't get those "what planet did YOU land from?" looks on the streets, I feel more foreign here.  A lot of people understand and speak English, but I miss being able to understand everything around me and freely communicate in Russian instead of my broken German. The Karavan grocery store across the street from my apartment building is going to be one of my first stops back in Kharkiv. The other day I went to the grocery store and unknowingly bought the most disgusting cheese I have ever encountered in my 20 years on this earth.  It looked so normal and Danish Butter-cheese seemed like a fairly normal name for a cheese, but it STINKS and tastes AWFUL! Mario claims that it's normal, delicious cheese, but I'm certainly not touching that stuff again! But don't get me wrong! Munich is a beautiful city and I enjoy my time here greatly, but it simply isn't a home for my heart.

Lots of love from the land of bratwurst and lederhosen!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

21st Birthday!

I'm so old! Might as well just start calling me Babushka! Okay, just kidding!  I don't feel a bit different.  In fact, turning 21 in a country where I could have been buying beer at 16 seems a little anti-climactic.  But never the less it was an incredibly splendid birthday and one to be remembered! I woke up in the morning to more surprises than I could have imagined! First a cake with С днем рождения! (Happy Birthday) written on it.  Then a beautiful bouquet of flowers and candles in the shape of the number 21.  And as if that wasn't enough, there were presents as well! A box of tea and the Lonely Planet guide to Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan (travel plans may or may not be in the works :D ) I opened the birthday cards from my mama and siblings and smiled as I read their sweet messages.  We enjoyed some coffee and cake together.  The cake was/is (there's still some left, but maybe not quite as much as you might expect haha) delicious! Mario was, of course, afraid it wouldn't be so tasty, but he had nothing to worry about! I went to work (more on that later) for most of the morning, afternoon, and early evening, but was home by about 7 PM.  We had something to eat and then had a really nice, long walk in the city in the crisp night air.  I felt so special and loved the entire day and  couldn't stop gushing about how sweet the morning surprises were! First birthday abroad - check!

Фотография: This is what I woke up to yesterday! Best start to my 21st birthday!))))
Birthday morning surprises!

Фотография: Birthday morning cake and coffee))
Birthday morning coffee and cake!

Monday, January 7, 2013

Deutschkurs, der erste Tag - Es geht

This morning I found myself back at Sprachschule Aktiv, the same language school where I found myself babbling my first words of German this past summer.  It's the only language school I've been to in Munich, but I like what they've got going on there.  Plus I think something about the number of Russian-speaking administrators and teachers makes me feel at home.  I was the first one from my group to arrive, but soon the others trickled in. There's an American guy who is spending the year in Munich to be with his girlfriend, an Italian and a Bosnian, who seem to be friends and are here working, a Serbian woman here on holiday, but hoping to work in Germany someday, a French woman who works as a programmer in London, but whose man is here, and a Spaniard with a quest here yet unknown to me.  They all speak German well, probably better than me, but a few days of dusting off the cobwebs should do wonders for my confidence.  The course itself is great and I know I'll learn a lot in the next two weeks.  While I shouldn't judge too quickly from the first day, my group feels a lot different than my summer group did.  Maybe it is because last summer I had already found myself in the circle of young Russian-speaking девушки (girls) during the first break, while the closest I've got this time so far is understanding snippets of the Serbian being spoken to my right.  But I was even close with the non-Russian speakers in my group.  We were all close and we all played translator for whoever in the group couldn't understand whatever language we were communicating in. Maybe it is because last summer we were all starting from practically zero and there was a sort of comradery in the endeavor. Whatever it is, I'm still going to make the most of my time there learning German, which is what I'm there to do.  And if I make a few buddies to grab lunch or take a walk with after class that will just be icing on the cake. I tried to strike-up some small talk with the American during our first break and the first thing he says to me, in that voice Americans use when speaking to foreigners is, "You know, you're English is quite good." huh?!?!? Apparently he didn't catch the "Ich komme aus den USA (I am from the USA)"part of my introduction and "Chelsea"didn't give him any clues about my approximate nationality.
After class I took an adventure and walked around for a good few hours.  I bought an external hard drive to begin the fun task of backing up all of my computer files and then had lunch and window shopped a bit just for fun even though there's nothing I really want to buy right now. And now, it's time for some good old German homework! Bis später!

Saturday, January 5, 2013

New Year's Eve in Vienna

The past two years, New Year's Eve has been quite different from the party of close friends and family which my awesome mother has always hosted.  While I certainly miss the Rock Band jam sessions, Wii sports tournaments, hamburger cheese dip, and sleeping friends sprawled out all over the family room, my new adventures haven't been half bad either ;) Last year we rang in New Year's Eve in Paris   before heading off to London for a few days of England adventure.  This year we found ourselves celebrating New Year's Eve abroad once again, but this time in Vienna, Austria! We were on the road around 8 AM on the 31st, which was nothing compared to our 4 AM departure on our summer adventure. We were in Vienna by  late morning and the weather was incredible! Warm, sunny, amazing! We checked into our hostel, bought some groceries and ate an early lunch before hitting the city for a few hours of exploring.  After the sun went down it got a bit more chilly, so after a glass of Gluhwein we returned back to the hostel to put on a few more layers and have a drink at the hostel bar before heading into the center.  We scoped out a few places and ate some street food before deciding that the park near the Rathaus (City Hall) was the best place for us to see the fireworks.  The area right in front of the Rathaus, with its concert and vendors, also had a fun atmosphere, but was too crowded.  The park was a little less crowded and there was a small stage and a screen which displayed the final countdown to midnight.  Even before midnight the sky was scattered with fireworks here and there, but at midnight the sky absolutely exploded with color, which lasted for a good ten minutes! It was unbelievable and I was grinning from ear to ear! The crowded cheered loudly after the final flash and boom and we decided it was time to pop open the bottle of Советское Шампанское (Soviet Champagne) - made in Kharkiv!!! Between the train, plane, and car, that bottle was full enough of pressure to be considered a deadly weapon.  The plan to pop it open into a bush failed, so I can only hope no eyes were taken out by that plastic cork bullet! Some fireworks were still going off here and there, so we watched those as we laughed, chatted, and made some toasts.  We finished off the bottle and decided to take the metro instead of walk to another part of the city, mostly to warm up a bit. While looking at the map outside of the metro station some girls heard us speaking Russian and started speaking to us.  Turns out they're from Kyiv! So we walked with them for a bit until they were stopping for some pizza and then  continued our walk until we were cold and tired enough to call it a night.

Beautiful sunrise and mountains on the Austrian boarder

New Year's Eve fun started early in Vienna

Vienna Opera House

Gluhwein (Mulled Wine)
Rathaus New Year's Eve Celebrations

Happy New Year!

The next day our roommates, who had been asleep when we got back, were up and on their way fairly early.  We slept a little longer than them, but not terribly late.  We had a nice big delicious breakfast at the hostel and then headed to the apartment we had booked for the next two nights.  We had planned to take a trip to Bratislava, but a few missed turns later we decided that it was better to hold that one off for the next day when we could leave in the morning and not have to worry about the quickly setting sun.  Instead we enjoyed a lovely afternoon and evening in Vienna, stopping inside for coffee when we got too shivery.
Wednesday, was therefore, our day in Bratislava and after some brief rain in the morning the sun even peaked out at us for a little bit.  Bratislava isn't a very big city, but it's historic and beautiful and I'm always happy when there's a castle to climb up! We didn't, of course, enjoy having to buy a vignette for only a few minutes on the Slovakian highway, but at least it was better than having a run-in similar to the one in Romania! Back in Vienna we had another lovely and final Vienna evening of walking, coffee, and street food.

Hanging out in Prater

Famous Ferris Wheel in Prater

Hey there Slovakia!

Central Square in Bratislava

Too cute!
Hey look, I found the American Embassy!

On top of the castle

More downtown Bratislava
Inside the castle complex

I'm sure English-speaking tourists are often amused by this chain of book stores
Schonbrunn Palace in Vienna
 And then just like that it was 7:50 Thursday morning and we were on the road back to Germany for a short stop in Hilpoltstein before a train ride back to Munich.  I gave Mario's parents the gifts from me and the card and chocolates from my mom.  She had written the card in German and they were certainly surprised! High five to mom for brushing up on her German and making that lovely surprise! I think Mario's mom has been working on her English because I felt like we could communicate better than last time I visited.  As you can imagine, being the foreign girlfriend who doesn't really understand German so well can be a little awkward sometimes.  But we make it work and Mario translates when necessary.

By the time we got back to Munich it was a little before eight, so we stopped by the grocery store and then spent the rest of the evening hanging out at home.  And the best part - I didn't have to get up early the next morning to catch a plane back to the USA like last year! I'm here for a little over two weeks more.  In addition to some time to relax and get some things done that I just haven't had the free time for until now, I will be spending my mornings taking a German course and attempt to remember the German I learned this summer. Even though Mario is really busy with his studies, it's still good that we can be together for a few weeks and when he's in Kharkiv it will be my turn to be the super busy one.
I can't help but think about the fact that, being that it was our second new year's together, this is the first time I have been in a relationship long enough to celebrate the same holiday together twice.  Yep, it's been just over 17 months since that weekend in Lvov when those first kisses were shared in the early hours of the morning and it appeared that our summer friendship was a little something more.  And even though the distance isn't always so fun, I guess love makes you do crazy things.  So here's to a great year of much happiness and love and many more magical New Year's celebrations!

Friday, January 4, 2013

A Liebster Surprise

After writing my post about my Box of Love from the USA, I was shocked to see in the comments that 8 Months in Ukraine had nominated my blog for a Liebster Blogging Award.  Well, let's be honest, I had no idea what a Liebster Blogging Award was, so I hopped on over to her page and learned that (quoting her blog) -
 "The idea behind this award is to connect up-and-coming bloggers. It's kind of like a a pat on the back, a "Hi, I like your work" to the authors, and a way to help your readers find more great blogs."

I think that the idea is awesome and a fun, encouraging way to connect the blogging community.  And let me not forget to say that you, 8 Months in Ukraine, have quite the wonderful blog yourself! I recommend checking it out, those of you reading my blog!


So now it's my turn to pass on the love to some darling bloggers. 

In His Hands - One of my very favorite blogs, written by a family friend.  It began with the story of the adoption of their dear sweet boy from Korea and continues to tell the story of their lives. 

Samantha's Bucket List - My dear friend's documentation of the ongoing completion of her personal bucket list.  

Bears, Beets, and Babushkas - I love that this blog is both informative and comical.  Elle's year abroad in Peter, living with a host grandmother and experiencing Russian culture at its finest, is full of all sorts of adventures worth reading about!

Oy the Joy - Yes, it's technically a tumblr account, but I'm nominating it all the same.  Ivana posts all sorts of cuteness and so openly shares what is on her heart and mind. Also, she is an amazing photographer!

When I think back on the beginning of this blog, 21 months, 120 posts, and over 3,500 views ago, I realize that I could never have predicted what has come to pass.  When I created this blog I was gearing up for my first trip to Ukraine, the country which stole my heart and in which I ended up again just a little over a year later.  During that first summer in Ukraine Mario and I met and have since been brought together again and again for all sorts of fun shinanigans together all over Europe.  My life has been turned upside down, inside out, and all around, but I can truly say that I am happy and always looking forward to the next adventure!

A Box of Love from the USA

Arriving in Germany Sunday morning, Mario and I spent the day enjoying the gorgeously warm and sunny day in a small town we happened upon.  By the time we got home I was really excited to give Mario the Christmas/New Year's gifts I had for him, but had to wait until after our walk around Munich in the evening.  After we had exchanged gifts Mario informed me that there was one more present.  He opened his closet and produced a large white box - my Christmas package from America!!! I couldn't believe it and was as giddy as a small child on Christmas morning.  I wasn't expecting it for another week or so, but the good old postal service far exceeded my expectations.  I tried to video call my mom, so that she could be there for the opening, but after a few tries I found out that she was somewhere without wifi, so I opened it up and gave her a call a little later.  The box was filled to the brim with all sorts of goodies! I got scarves and socks, leg-warmers and Christmas PJs. My favorite perfume and a calender of kittens was to be found inside as well as a gift card from my godfather and a hand-knitted scarf and headband from the grandmother. A cute little teddy bear in a Santa hat brought a smile to my face and I will be happy to have more than enough bobby pins and hair ties for the rest of the year.  There was an abundance of stickers and English greeting cards for my students and some magazines and devotion books for my friends at church.  There was even an Indianapolis Colts t-shirt for Mario and chocolates and a card for his parents.  He soon put the t-shirt on and immediately began claiming them as "his football team".  Even better, they won their game that night. We shared the Hershey's chocolate bar while watching TV and it tasted like home.  There are a few more cards which I'm not allowed to open on my birthday, so the excitement of the box continues! The package put me in a silly, happy, smiley mood all night and I couldn't stop gushing over how excited I was about all of it.  There could have been anything in that box and I would have been happy, but everything mom sent was absolutely perfect!  I am so spoiled to get so many gifts from home while I am thousands of miles away!

Opening it was quite the challenge

Go Colts!

Ipod Covers. The flag ones are for a Ukrainian friend :)

Teddy bear, perfume, and hair things

All sorts of cute stuff for staying warm!

My lovely new necklace from Mario!